Wednesday, March 24, 2010
PFIZER SUGGESTS SCIENTIST TO BLAME FOR ILLNESS
By Lee Howard
Publication: The Day
Former employee faces cross-examination in civil trial over her firing
Hartford - A former Pfizer Inc. scientist with a rare illness said in testimony Monday in U.S. District Court that her former employer ignored repeated requests for records that might tie her condition to novel viruses being studied in the company's Groton laboratories.
But an attorney for Pfizer, in his first cross-examination of molecular biologist Becky McClain of Deep River, tried to show that the company responded to many of McClain's safety complaints - and that she might have been lax in preventing her own possible infection.
McClain, on the stand to start a second week of a federal civil trial in which she alleges that Pfizer fired her in retaliation for making safety complaints, said she spent sleepless nights in fear of what might have been causing episodes of paralysis.
"It was incredibly stressful," she said.
McClain said she wrote two letters to Pfizer at the suggestion of a contact at the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The company did not initially respond to her letters requesting exposure records, she testified.
Five days after McClain sent her second request for exposure records, she received a termination notice from Pfizer, according to testimony.
After being let go by Pfizer - a firing that the company says occurred because she abandoned her job during a lengthy period in which she claimed illness - McClain testified she had trouble finding work. Without any references from Pfizer officials, she said, "The possibility of getting another job in this career does not look hopeful."
McClain said she applied and got into Quinnipiac University School of Law in Hamden, but had to withdraw as her illness progressed.
Pfizer attorney William J. Anthony and McClain sparred over whether she took enough precautions to prevent her own illness. McClain said she would have taken more precautions had she known a virus was in her work area, but there were no outward signs that someone had left a virus, as she has contended, on her workbench.
McClain, according to testimony, had complained about the lab setup being potentially dangerous even before she became concerned about her own exposure to a virus. The idea proferred by Anthony that she could have used gloves to type at her workstation - which was right next to the bench where she and others performed experiments - elicited a strong reaction from McClain.
"It was impossible to do that," she said. "It was the whole issue (she and others had been complaining about)."
McClain also had a strong response to Anthony's suggestion that she didn't report an infectious agent in a lab hallway where scientists routinely ate lunch. McClain said she had neglected to report the infectious agent because she had been told it didn't hold potential harm for humans.
"If I had known it was a human infectious agent, you bet I would have reported it," McClain said.
At another point, responding to a question about a supervisor's note stressing the importance of lab safety, McClain indicated the note didn't necessarily mean the Pfizer official, John McNeish, was truly concerned - especially considering another e-mail she cited in earlier testimony in which he claimed not to know about any safety concerns in the labs.
"Was he indifferent or being pressured by upper management?" she asked rhetorically. "I don't know."
Anthony pointed out that e-mails seemed to indicate that other Pfizer officials - including Jim Hime and Peter McCarthy - knew about McClain's complaints at a time when even McClain admitted there were no signs of retaliation.
Anthony also suggested that McClain had declined to accept a move to another Pfizer lab - a suggestion McClain denied.
COMMENT BY LYME SENTINEL: Let's hope that the Court system remains unbiased in this case and allows all the necessary evidence to be presented.If the virus/infectious agent issue cannot be addressed at all or with the proper available evidence, how fair can this trial really be? Some of the main issues, which appear to be blocked are as follows....1.Was it the lentivirus, being worked on by another scientist on McClain's bench that made Mrs. McClain chronically ill? McClain suffers from potassium channelopathy which causes periodic paralysis. Potassium channelopathy is a known derangement caused by the lentivirus. 2.What are the known characteristics of this genetically engineered virus? 3.If this virus is what Mrs. McClain is infected with, how will it progress in her body? 4.Is this virus actively infectious and could it pass to the public?
How can we know the answers to these questions if the "virus word" is not even allowed to be mentioned? A comment was made by the court that no one around or close to Mrs McClain appears to be ill or has contracted any virus she may have. This statement is impossible to prove without more complete knowledge of the virus and an accurate test. People can be a carrier of viruses and bacteria without becoming ill. Microbes can be passed on to others from these healthy carriers. It's the health of our immune systems which determine whether or not we become ill....and not just the presence of a virus. The lentivirus in question, is a slow acting virus and may not cause problems in people until months or years down the road...that is...if this lentivirus acts in a similar manner to other lentiviruses....such as AIDS.The details are not being allowed to come forward to identify the virus's properties because Pfizer says its a trade secret.
Another point concerning the court's comment is that people are continually being diagnosed with autoimmune disease and other labels which describe conditions. These disease labels...such as ALS, M.S, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Parkinson's, Lupus...etc.... almost always have no known cause, definitive tests....or curative treatments...only many many symptomatic treatments. This of course provides drug companies with increased profits.The more drugs you sell the better. If you cure an illness, the patient is no longer an object of profit.
How many of our emerging diseases (chronic conditions) with no known causes, definitive tests, or cures... are being caused by viruses such as this slow acting lentivirus? How big of a role...if any, has unsafe lab practices played in our nations deteriorating health?
How will we ever know the answers to these questions... if we allow the powerful corporations to withold such crucial information due to "trade secrets"? Where is everyone's priorities? Don't people realize that the results of these "off kilter" priorities seeping and moving through society...will eventually negatively affect the perpetrators and their families?